Our second trip to Sao Paulo was funnily enough similar to the first. This time we stayed at a different hotel, in a nicer part of town. Our arrival was unusual. We got to the street quite late at night after carrying our heavy bags for about 20 mins. At this stage my bag was up to 17kg, plus another 4kgs in the small backpack. So we were pretty tired and ready for a rest. We found the street fine, but we couldn’t find the hotel. We approached a security guard for directions and he walked us to the building next door. He was as confused as we were, as the hotel clearly did not exist. He banged on a barred window and started rambling in Portuguese to a terrified looking Taiwanese couple. We tried our luck with English instead and it turned out they were also guests in the hotel, but they had no idea where the manager was. There were no signs indicating that it was a hotel. They did let us in to the hallway, but we weren’t any closer to finding a room. Then we banged on another door, answered by another rambling Portuguese person. She managed to understand enough to call the manager for us and point us to a room. A few days later, after coming back from town a man was yelling “Nicholas” behind us on the stairwell. This is something I am fairly used to by now, as they are not familiar with my name. They also always yell it at Ben, thinking that Nicholas is a boys name. He asked us to follow him, at which point he took us to a cupboard with a computer in it and opened up Google translate. He typed “Hello my name is Marcel. I am the building owner. I apologise for Saturday when you arrived”. We said “not to worry”, but he continued to type. “The doorman’s mother died on Saturday and he ran away. I did not know”. So that was that.
We only had two days in the city. We spent our first day taking it easy, as I still had a cold. We had a breakfast of fruit, bacon and eggs, and coffee. Then we walked around a few shops (including Starbucks!) and went to the movies. It was an American movie, with Portuguese subtitles. The theatre was full of people who obviously considered themselves very cultural for going to a movie in a foreign language. However, for us it was a normal movie. We were the only ones who laughed at the jokes and we left feeling very much at home.
The following day we went to the Park of Independence. We arrived to see it covered in smoke. We were torn. Could this be a terrorist attack and we should leave as fast as possible or should we go and investigate? We chose the later option. Turned out there was a street through the middle of the park and a VW van had caught on fire. Given the state of most of the cars, we weren’t too surprised and continued our walk of the park. Most of our pictures were quite smoky looking. I guess that’s how we will always remember the Park of Independence… “nice, but a bit smoky”.
We continued around the city and got on a few wrong buses. We walked for miles and miles and ended up on the dodgy side of a motorway we couldn’t cross. On the positive side, homeless people and crack addicts are good for keeping you motivated when you’re too tired to keep walking. We were fairly used to ignoring the homeless people who asked us for money, but we walked past one man lying in the gutter who called out “agua”. This means “water” in Portuguese. Without thinking we ignored him and walked by. On a separate occasion we were walking along with a hoard of people down the footpath. At which point someone ahead stepped over something. It was slowing us all down and was a bit of a pedestrian traffic jam. We continued along and realised that the obstacle was climbing over a man passed out across the sidewalk. I say passed out, but we wouldn’t have known if he was dead. We stepped over him and continued walking. At the time it seemed the most natural thing to do. I hope that if I’m ever in a gutter asking for water or lie dying on the road that someone better than me stops to help.
We walked to the Empire State Building replica in the middle of the city. It’s a very old building, and they can only let 5 people up at a time. The line didn’t look too long so we waited. An hour later we got to the front of the queue. We were the last ones in line. We took the first elevator to the 26th floor. Then we joined another line. About 20 minutes later we got in the next elevator that could only fit 5 people. That took us to the 32nd floor. Then we had to sit in a chair and wait for the group ahead of us. Finally we received our five minutes on the observation deck. The few safety standards in Brazil meant that it was an open deck, with a dodgy looking fence up to hip level. Rather than put up a proper fence they employee five staff to walk around behind each of you around and make sure that you don’t throw anything or try to jump. As you can imagine in a city with 22 million people, all we could see were high rise buildings out to the horizon.
On one of the evenings we went to an Italian restaurant. As Sao Paulo has the largest Italian population outside of Italy, it would have been rude not to. We ordered a spaghetti bolognese to share between the three of us. It was delicious! All our meals were pretty good in Sao Paulo. However, on one occasion, Ben and Katie were determined to get McDonalds for breakfast. We laughed that you can probably only order ham and cheese toasties (the only breakfast food offered at the hostels around Brazil) and it turned out we were right. No hot cakes or egg McMuffins in sight. I suppose that was the only let down of all our meals, but perhaps we should have known better than to go to McDonalds.